21 December 2009

The only story in the news last week, that the Copenhagen Climate Conference Proceedings (CCCP) continued unabashed, illustrates just how the entire dialogue on environmentalism has been usurped for cold, calculating political purposes. Two weeks back, in an unprecedented move 56 of the world's newspapers, using 20 languages, published a common editorial.

The article states that 'humanity faces a profound emergency' and that unless we do what's already been decided we should do that 'climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security'. This is the same conclusive, didactic tone that dominates most major media coverage of such questions and issues, a tone that can never be supported by scientific evidence, largely because scientific evidence just doesn't work that way. That evidence can be used to support a theory and make predictions on the basis of that theory, but it can't tell you the future behaviour of complex systems with any guarantee of accuracy. This is commonly known as the butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps its wings in New York and ten hours later the weather in Peking changes.

So why did 56 of the world's newspapers do this? Newspapers are very much in competition with one another for readership and advertising revenue. This, rather than any sense of democratic responsibility, is the reason why the same story will be told differently by different outlets. Guardian readers will as a rule not touch the Daily Mail, and vice versa, though to someone with no affiliation they're both pretty poor. This latest move is only the culmination of a longstanding policy of unanimity amongst the mainstream media when it comes to discussing the possibility of an anthropogenic origin of climate change and therefore the need for widespread economic policies to counter the deadly climate change that will allegedly result. The epistemological basis for such claims doesn't exist, and the economics of running a newspaper would dictate that at least a token difference in content is a good idea, and yet some force was at play that overcame that.

Some versions of the editorial made mention of the awfully-named 'climategate' scandal, where the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia university was hacked. Various e-mails and other files that were obtained by the hacker(s) are now widely available online, and despite the attempts to deny their significance they have given a boost to many of those people who are skeptical about whether global warming is taking place, or whether it has a human cause.

The most obvious aspect of the e-mails is their vocabulary in discussing anyone who is even skeptical about the CRU's conclusions. While science is meant to proceed in an atmosphere of mutual skepticism and questionning, anyone deviating from the 'global warming is real and serious and caused by humans' belief is evidently seen as hostile, an opponent to be overcome. One e-mail from Phil Jones, the head of the CRU, describes the death of sceptic John Daly as 'cheering news'. Though this was said in a once-private email, it betrays an ugly attitude on the part of people whose professional obligation is towards careful questionning, not rejecting disagreement in all its forms.

The same attitude is seen in the emails discussing those who were using the Freedom of Information Act to get the data and models on which the CRU formed their conclusions, including the infamous hockey stick graph. In one, Phil Jones talks about how he'd rather delete the data than give it out (which is a crime), and about finding ways to hide behind the Data Protection Act. He also mentions an e-mail sent to him by former head of the CRU Tom Wigley, 'worried' that he'd have to give up the source code for his model. Wigley is now retired, and Jones suggests that this should be enough to protect him and his contribution. In another, Jones asks another member of CRU staff to delete emails that were also subject to FOIA requests.

The Canada Free Press recently published an article by Tim Ball, the man in the video above, profiling Jones and Wigley and how they'd been at the centre of the CRU and the IPCC throughout the period when climate science became so politicised. Indeed, one of the most recent e-mails of all is from Wigley to Jones, stating that land warming since 1980 is double the ocean warming, and that sceptics might use this to argue that the urban heat island effect is more influential than is accounted for in the models. Other e-mails from Wigley to Jones illustrate that despite his retirement, Wigley is very much still running the show at the CRU, including this e-mail in which he expresses concern at the 1940s warming 'blip' which they cannot explain. Ultimately, concern is at how to make the 'blip' disappear so as to not threaten the desired conclusion, rather than a genuine scientific concern that their conclusion might be wrong.

Another exchange from 2005 shows considerably more dissent and disagreement within the scientific community that the 'consensus' would have us believe. This gives credence to the over 30,000 scientists (including 9000 PhDs) who have signed a petition saying they are not part of the consensus. Going back to 1997 we find an email discussing how to manipulate media coverage to make it seem like the scientific community were far more unified that they were in reality:

Mike, Rob,

Sounds like you guys have been busy doing good things for the cause.

I would like to weigh in on two important questions --

Distribution for Endorsements -- I am very strongly in favor of as wide and rapid a distribution as possible for endorsements. I think the only thing that counts is numbers. The media is going to say "1000 scientists signed" or "1500 signed". No one is going to check if it is 600 with PhDs versus 2000 without. They will mention the prominent ones, but that is a different story.

Conclusion -- Forget the screening, forget asking them about their last publication (most will ignore you.) Get those names! - CRU e-mail

Even stronger indication of this 'scientific' process being led by a desired conclusion are communications relating to manipulating presentations of data which produce the hockey stick curve. One e-mail from 1999 describes using the 'trick' of adding 'real temps' to the series to help 'hide the decline'. While acknowledging that this way a 'poor choice of words' the CRU and Jones in particular, who wrote the e-mail, tried to fudge the issue.

He told the magazine that there was no intention to mislead, but he had "no idea" what he meant by those words.

"That was an e-mail from ten years ago. Can you remember the exact context of what you wrote ten years ago?" he said. "Mike" refers to Jones' colleague Michael Mann, who told the New York Times that the "trick" was simply a way of solving a data problem. - Fox News

So what was this 'data problem' and what is the 'trick'? The problem is that the proxy temperature data from tree rings only conforms to the 20th century warming trend of other data sets as far about 1960, and then shows a decline. So on the hockey stick graph which shows numerous data sets from different sources the trick is that actual temperature data from measuring stations has been tacked onto proxy data from ice cores, tree rings and so on to produce the desired visual effect. The decline shown by the tree ring data has been hidden by simply not including it. While Jones may not remember what he meant it is pretty easy to reconstruct, particularly when those analysing the partial code files have found confirmation that this sort of book-cooking is going on. The Daily Mail ran an article on this particular aspect of the hacked e-mail recently, including some nice graphs and graphics which illustrate the point clearly.

Now, this is very bad science, as it involves mixing proxy and directly measured data together, and manipulating the data until it looks how you want it to look. We know from one of Wigley's e-mails that the directly measured land temperature data shows much greater warming than the directly measured ocean temperature data. This is important, because the numbers used to produce such graphs as the hockey stick do not use the raw data, but adapt it to account for the urban heat island effect. Stations in towns and cities show higher average temperatures because there's more activity nearby, so the raw data is adapted by a given amount to give the 'true' temperature, though the extent of this adaptation is not public knowledge. Given the manipulation of the tree ring data described above (which has been known about by climate sceptics for several years prior to the hacking) some have alleged that a similar process could have been applied to the station temperature data, downplaying the urban heat island effect and thus producing higher average temperatures in the 'true' results.

It is precisely this data and details of what had been done to it that people were trying to obtain through FOIA requests, and precisely what Jones was referring to when he spoke of preferring to destroy the data rather than let anyone outside their circle see it. About a week into climategate the CRU announced that they would publish all the data they'd been holding back for years, but the day after said that they'd dumped the originals and only had the 'quality controlled and homogenised' sets. As such, it is unclear if the original instrumental temperature data is still available to be studied, by sceptics or advocates or anyone else.

A couple of days after revealing they'd scrapped data central to the whole question of global warming, regardless of its possibly anthropogenic cause, Phil Jones announced he was stepping down as director of the CRU. Given the obvious influence Wigley still wields I doubt Jones's stepping down is anything but a PR strategy to try to deflect attention from the very important question of the credibility of the science and scientists. Indeed, the following day the University of East Anglia named a former civil servant (who else?) as the head of their internal inquiry into the hacking and the allegations.

There are abundant articles analysing the content of the e-mails but it is very important that the vast majority of these are from blog writers and others in the independent media. The mainstream initially either didn't run with the story, or simply reported that the hacking had taken place. The exceptions were Fox, who could be comfortably ignored as right-wing, and the Telegraph, who occupy a similar position on the political spectrum. When it comes to advancing the political agenda associated with anthropogenic climate change they spoke with one voice. The same one voice said next to nothing about a potential scandal at an academic institution, the sort of thing they would usually jump on.

However, global warming attack dog George Monbiot broke ranks and maintained his long standing role as spin doctor for the movement. He called for the sort of inquiry now being conducted by the University of East Anglia, and the UN, and the resignation of Phil Jones. This is the classic response of a political institutions - get someone to resign, pretend to clean house and that this was a problem limited to a few people that has now been sorted out. The important thing is that people feel the problem is solved:

Think of the MPs' expenses scandal: complaints about stolen data, denials and huffy responses achieved nothing at all. Most of the MPs could demonstrate that technically they were innocent: their expenses had been approved by the Commons office. It didn't change public perceptions one jot. The only responses that have helped to restore public trust in Parliament are humility, openness and promises of reform. - Monbiot, The Guardian

A scientific institution should not behave like a political institution, yet when it comes to climate science, Monbiot draws no such distinction. In some ways he is right to do so (or not do so) because the science has got so close to the policy that the institutions are no longer separate, if indeed they ever are or were.

It isn't just journalists that are managing the PR over global warming, the emails demonstrate that the scientists do too. Not just in terms of presenting the case for the 'consensus' and refusing to release data supporting their conclusions, but in seeking to corrupt the peer-review process and put pressure on media organs daring to write pieces sceptical of global warming, or the possibly anthropogenic cause. In response to a BBC article in October 2009 titled 'What Happened to Global Warming?' one member of the CRU said it was a 'travesty' that they couldn't account for the lack of warming, and that their 'observing system is inadequate'. Others in the same exchange suggested contacting Richard Black, the BBC's main climate reporter to find out why such an article got published, or responding via an op-ed through the BBC.

Even more aggressive tactics were discussed in dealing with scientific publications. When Climate Research published a paper in 2003 that was sceptical as to whether the 20th century was a particularly warm one the e-mails detail the strategies considered by those at the CRU. The editors at Climate Research were considered dangerous sceptics who should be ostracised.

This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the "peer-reviewed literature". Obviously, they found a solution to that--take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering "Climate Research" as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. - CRU e-mails

Note the circular logic employed here. Skepticism about global warming is wrong because it is not supported by scientific articles in "legitimate peer-reviewed journals." But if a journal actually publishes such an article, then it is by definition not "legitimate." - RealClearPolitics

When another sceptical paper was published by the Geophysical Research Letters the exchange of e-mails shows tremendous concern on the part of the CRU and their associates. Even a single sceptical paper is seen as a threat, to the extent that Wigley suggested having the editor who approved the publication 'ousted'. It appears this is exactly what they did, as a later e-mail states that 'The GRL leak may have been plugged up now w/ new editorial leadership there'. This is the exact opposite of how peer-review is meant to work, and indeed how science is meant to work. Scepticism is meant to be encouraged, so that theories can be rigorously tested against possible errors, oversights and other problems. The peer-review process is there to ensure standards are met in publications, regardless of the theory being advanced or questioned.

Instead we can see an entirely circular, conclusion-led process is going on, seeking only to find and publish that information that supports the desired theory while anyone and anything not supporting it is seen as a dangerous problem to be attacked and removed. Phil Jones even went so far in a 2004 e-mail as to suggest they 'redefine what the peer-review literature is', showing how these researchers have nothing but contempt for the scientific method and its precepts. If any one group of scientists were able to define the peer-review literature then science becomes nothing more than another means for an elite to control what information the public hears, yet that is not only what many at the CRU (and elsewhere) are willing to do, it is what they are actively trying to do.

This is relatively unsurprising because as the science and policy have become more closely involved, a process that has happened over 30 years, their mutually reinforcing interests combine into one. This is most apparent in the involvement of people like Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, who has a long list of conflicting interests involving everyone from oil companies to the Asian Development Bank. However, the public discourse mostly revolves around two polar conspiracy theories - either the AGW theory is true and there's huge pressure, from oil companies and whatnot, to cover it up, valiantly fought against by green activists and eventually Western governments - or the AGW theory isn't true and there's huge pressure, from international governments and bankers, to use the fear it generates to advance a globalist agenda.

Largely ignored are the majority of the world's population who sit somewhere in between these views, for example those who believe the temperature record does show distinct warming but don't attribute an anthropogenic cause. Even within that there are two quite distinct views - those who don't attribute a human cause because they don't believe in one, and those who don't attribute a human cause because they think it is impossible to make that judgment about such a complex system as planetary climate. Even a great many of those who are suspicious of the motives of those who have clearly put tremendous political will behind this in the last few years are in favour of polluting less, using less energy, putting a lesser emphasis on economic growth and more on efficient use of resources. But most of them believe in that not because of a scientific consensus which clearly doesn't exist, or because of a huge propaganda campaign involving scientists, politicians and journalists. They believe in it because it is abundantly clear that our entire economic system takes very little account of its impact on our environment, more so the further down the pyramid of poverty you go, and that regardless of some hypothetical Roland Emmerich scenario there are very real and obvious negative impacts on our own species as well as thousands of others.

Nonetheless, the polarised conspiracy theories persist. A recent article by Agence France Presse, decried the climategate scandal as being 'fabricated' by 'US business interests'. The article interviewed a scientist on the IPCC:

"Each and every time an IPCC report is released... very similar things happen," said Weaver. "If you don't like the message you try to discredit the messenger." "There is a war on science," he added, alleging it was being led by right-wing ideologues and business interests and their tactics "exploit a lack of scientific literacy in the general public." -

After describing the tactic of ad hominem, this scientist went on to use it against his perceived enemy. AFP clearly didn't bother to question him about this contradiction. Nonetheless, there are clear attempts to exploit the lack of scientific knowledge in the general public, from both of the apparently opposing camps, and both only accuse the other of this tactic without acknowledging their own role. But the onus has to be on those advancing the theory to provide the information, and provide it credibly and truthfully, which the CRU have systematically failed to do. Pachauri's presentation at the Copenhagen conference was just more of the same.

The reason for this can be found in another of the hacked files. 'hot-proposal.doc' is, rather obviously, a proposal for the HOT project, Helping Operationalise article Two. 'Article Two' refers to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, a charter drawn up well before the IPCC even expressed any certainty on anthropogenic climate change. Towards the end of the file the proposal discusses the importance of 'stakeholder participation', which is academic language for 'democracy'. Or at least, a democracy whereby people's decisions and opinions actually matter. Repeated throughout the pages is the assumption that ordinary people lack both the intellect and the willpower to make the right decisions, by which they invariably mean the decisions authorities want them to make. This culminates in a ridiculous table seeking to demonstrate the 'divergent' opinions 'on how participation can contribute to the quality of decision-making, quality of science, legitimacy of democracy et cetera.'

In each case the aim is simply to present arguments for and against participation, to give the appearance of a balanced argument. The quality of the arguments doesn't appear to have been considered at all, and they are far from even. Again, we see the premise that people aren't capable of 'rational judgment', and presumably the criteria for who is considered to be capable of this is the same criteria the CRU used to assess 'legitimate' peer-review publications.

Given the incredibly low intellectual standards being employed by the authors of these files and e-mails we have little reason to believe in their work, regardless what we consider politically important. The allegation that anyone raising doubts is a 'climate change denier' and probably funded by the oil industry should be fought not just with a willful defence of democratic rights but also with information. Some of the hacked e-mails show that the scientists had contact with, and apparent support from, people at Shell, BP and Esso (Exxon-Mobil), the world's largest oil companies, apparently those funding the 'climate change denial' movement. Indeed, the CRU was set up in the early 1970s partly funded by oil companies. This information should force Monbiot and his ilk to reconsider their position, but it doesn't because like those at the CRU and elsewhere, they are not particularly concerned with evidence.

Another conspiracy theory that has been advanced, including in the AFP article above, is that the hack had been going on for weeks and the files held back so they could cause maximum damage to the CCCP. This was reported by the Times, and is given some credence by another report interviewing the BBC journalist who authored the 'what happened to global warming?' piece, who said that he'd been sent some of the e-mails weeks earlier. It is interesting that the files apparently first appeared on a Russian server, as the Russians have never been part of the 'consensus', but to date there's no real evidence of who did the hacking, and there are some allegations that it was an inside job by a CRU whistleblower. Time may tell.

In Denmark, the CCCP have drawn to a close without any meaningful agreement on emissions targets. A couple of days before the end of the conference the proceedings were in danger of becoming a 'farce' according to Ed Miliband, the UK's environmental policy enforcer, due to negotiations failing to even approach a consensus. How ironic. This is despite many poor countries having to go along with the countries leading the way due to their dependence on foreign aid. The actual end result is a glorified press release, whereby there will be no auditing of promises on reductions or offsetting of emissions, and any pledges at this stage aren't legally binding. Somewhat bizarrely this was described by delegate Lumumba Di-aping, an Oxford-trained Soros-affiliate and chair of the G77 group of the world's 130 poorest countries, as condemning Africa to being ravaged by climate change comparable to the Nazi holocaust.

Particularly damaging in the early days of the conference was the leak of a text outlining the aims of the negotiations. The draft described plans to sideline the UN in favour of the World Bank, who would then abandon the Kyoto protocols. This would pave the way for a system whereby poor countries could be compelled to reduce their emissions, despite already being the lowest emitters, and whereby continued aid would be contingent on them adopting certain technologies and policies. Environmental-economic hitmen. This will make it virtually impossible for developing economies to become anything even approaching debt-free and independent. Furthermore, the suggested per-capita emissions allowances are different among the developed countries and those further down the food chain, to the tune of people in the countries driving these negotiations being allowed to emit about twice as much as the other 6 billion people in the world. Di-aping's comments were criticised by Miliband and others, so it unclear whether his objection is genuinely opposed to 'the economic dominance of a few countries' or is being used to press for a stronger deal more conducive to the interests both he and Miliband represent.

Herein lies the most important aspect of this debate - regardless of your position on AGW the only people the politics really serve are existing, entrenched elite powers. The proposals are virtually all economic, and have very little to do with reducing pollution or the rush for economic growth. The amounts of money being pledged for a 'global green fund' are a fraction of what has been spent to support the existing economic and financial infrastructure, which illustrates where the real commitments lie. In polarising the discussion so harshly and branding not just the opposition but those asking questions as 'behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-earth climate sceptics' (Gordon Brown) the idea of now reaching a political agreement is indeed a farce. The truth is that even without the hacked e-mails there would be billions of people and hundreds of countries fighting the imposition of an even more centralised global economy. Saying that, scientific institutions should own up to their responsibility in allowing their authority to be abused for this vile attempt at a new world order, because they played a huge role in getting it this far.